On February 11th, 1858, Bernadette was out gathering firewood with her sister Marie and a friend near the grotto of Massabielle when she experienced her first vision. While the other girls crossed the little stream in front of the grotto and searched for firewood, Bernadette stayed behind, looking for a place to cross where she wouldn’t get her stockings wet. She finally sat down to take her shoes off in order to cross the water and while taking off her stocking she heard the sound of rushing wind, but nothing around her moved. From the alcove in the rock “came a dazzling light, and a white figure”. This was to be the first of 18 visions.
Her sister and her friend stated that they had seen nothing.
The vision asked her to “do her the favor” of returning to the grotto every day for fourteen days.
Initially, her parents, for fear of repercussions from the authorities, tried to forbid her to go. Despite being rigorously interviewed by officials, Bernadette stuck consistently to her story. Her accounts of the Apparitions were precise, never adding or retracting anything.
The apparition did not identify herself until the seventeenth vision. Although the townspeople who believed she was telling the truth assumed she saw the Virgin Mary, Bernadette never claimed it to be Mary, consistently using the word aquero, a word in the local patois, which means – thing. She described the lady as wearing a white veil, a blue girdle and with a yellow rose on each foot — compatible with “a description of any statue of the Virgin in a village church”.
On February 25th she explained that the vision had told her “to drink of the water of the spring, to wash in it and to eat the herb that grew there,” as an act of penance. Everyone thought her mad.
However, to everyone’s surprise, the next day the grotto was no longer muddy but clear water flowed freely.
On March 2nd during the thirteenth apparition, Bernadette told her family that the lady said, “a chapel should be built and a procession formed”.
The 16th vision occurred on March 25th. According to Bernadette’s account, during that visitation, she again asked the woman for her name but the lady just smiled back. She repeated the question three more times and finally heard the lady say in local patois “I am the Immaculate Conception. ” (Qué soï era immaculado councepcioũ)
Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions in 1862.
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